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How assisted dying could work in the UK

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No there’s no sarcasm or irony in this blog, it’s straight.

Assisted dying is back in the news again. Recently, Noel Conway, a 67 year old man suffering from motor neurone disease (MND) lost his high court bid to change the law so that he can be helped to die at home when his MND makes his life intolerable.

I feel everybody has the right to self-determination

My grandmother died from MND 23 years ago. A previously strong and active woman, the disease slowly wasted her muscles until she was left as helpless as a rag doll, dependent on others for every aspect of her daily living. Her cognitive function and speech remained unaffected and she would constantly beg my grandfather to help her end her suffering.

I have no doubt that if she’d had even the slightest movement left in her hands, she would have found a way to take an overdose and end what for her had become an appalling existence.

I have listened intently to both sides of the argument on assisted dying. Any debate around euthanasia is always going to be highly emotionally charged.

Personally I feel everybody has the right to self-determination and not just those with the funds to travel to Switzerland.

But how could assisted dying be facilitated in the UK?

Well it would always have to be on a case by case basis, there could never be a ‘one size fits all’ formula. There would need to be a panel convened to review every application: a GP, relevant hospital specialists and representation from the legal profession.

The patient, their loved ones and other professionals involved in their care would need to be interviewed individually and in depth by these professionals.

There would need to be absolute openness and clarity regarding the patient’s monetary affairs so it would be clear who would benefit financially from their demise.

The professionals on this panel would all need to be volunteers and not be paid for their services, which would ensure there was no risk of a professional supporting assisted dying for their own gain.

Following this in depth and independent review, there would have to be unanimity among all members of the panel before an assisted death could be authorised.

With the right safeguards in place assisted dying could be made a legal option for those suffering from the most degrading and dehumanising of medical conditions.

As some in the debate recently commented, maybe then we could afford the same dignity to our fellow man as we do to our terminally ill pets.

Dr David Turner is a GP in west London

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Readers' comments (6)

  • Spuds

    The only people who would volunteer for such a panel would be those who inherently agree with the principle of it and are therefore biased in favour of allowing the patient to die.

    There is no way to ensure that everyone who commits assisted suicide or euthanasia does so uncoerced.

    In my view this should not be a medical matter. We doctors have a duty to preserve life.

    If society (ie parliament) want to make this legal then it should be carried out by lay people only.

    You wouldn't need a medical degree to kill someone. I would imagine that is pretty easy to do - just follow the recipe. On the other hand, your medical degree enables you to help them stay alive and reduce their suffering - this is the harder thing to do and in my view the more ethical thing.

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  • Cobblers

    This one is emotive and brings into action all those with theological baggage who declare human life sacrosanct and those palliative care people who profess that no patient need suffer an unbearable death. Both are entitled to their opinion but both in my view hold non-evidence based positions.

    I have no axe to grind. I firmly believe in the individual’s right to die and a time and place of their choosing. That someone else with his or her “imaginary deity-friend” should dictate to me that I must continue on, alive and suffering, is extraordinary.

    I agree with Dr Turner (I really must stop doing that :-) and agree also this is a societal problem. A standard death kit of oral or IV meds could be made available and doctors need not be involved.

    The complexity of safeguards and concerns of mission creep can be addressed. If we have to have a death council then so be it.

    It seems iniquitous that we can deliver a much-loved animal into that long good night when we, a so-called ‘sapiens’ animal, have to go to the bitter end.

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  • Would you trust politicans/NHS managers to make decisions in the best interests of patients.

    Look at what is happening around us.

    I'm hearing stories every day from practicing clinicians that send a chill down my spine.

    The system will be abused in a few short years - patients pressurized and that is not even considering COI from some ( very few) families.

    I know this is the slippery slope argument but are we not seeing the impact of these all around us?

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  • Spuds


    I think it is unfair to assume that everyone opposed to euthanasia has based their opinion on "theological baggage".

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  • Cobblers

    Read what I said Spuds. I made no such comment regarding "assumption". I use theological baggage and palliative carers as two examples.

    There are many others who for various reasons seek to impose their will on how others run their bodies at the end. It should be an individual's decision when and ideally where to die.

    Note I said individual not managers nor b@st@rd politicians.

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  • David Banner

    I had a close relative in Holland who had a wonderful death of her own choosing when her terminal illness became unbearable.
    By contrast I have had many patients faced with terminal cancer who would have loved to have the option to spare them the last few harrowing weeks of life.
    50 years after passing an abortion law, correctly giving women the right to end life at the earliest stage, we still deny the right to desperate patients at the other end. As the baby boomers, (who are used to having everything they deem is their right), reach their twilight years, the demand to reverse this cruel and unnecessary ban (made ludicrous by the ability to buy a 1 way ticket to Zurich) will build to a crescendo.

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